Belarus is preparing to send soldiers into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion in a deployment that could begin as soon as Monday, a U.S. administration official said Sunday evening.

“It’s very clear Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security development.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine and Russia would conduct the first diplomatic talks since the Kremlin-launched invasion at the Ukrainian border with Belarus.

“We will be happy if the result of these negotiations is peace and the end of the war,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations said, reading a statement to reporters. “But I emphasize again, we will not give up. We will not capitulate. We will not give away an inch of our territory.”

Tensions continued to escalate, with Putin stating Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into alert, attributing the move to “aggressive statements” from the West. The White House called the order an example of “manufacturing threats that don’t exist.”

The European Union, meanwhile, announced it will shut down airspace to Russian planes and finance weapons purchases to Ukraine as several nations, including the United States, vow to block the Kremlin’s access to its sizable foreign currency reserves in the West and to cut off some Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system. Those sanctions, The Washington Post reports, followed an emotional call for help from Zelensky.

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